Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:Themes

The book was an attempt to place the radical activism and drug culture of the 1960s into the context of the (then) present-day mainstream American experience. It explores the idea that 1971 was a turning point in hippie and drug culture in America, the year that the innocence and optimism of the late 1960s turned to cynicism.

Throughout the novel, the main characters go out of their way to degrade, abuse, and destroy symbols of American consumerism and excess. Much of Las Vegas is used to symbolize the ugliness of mainstream American culture, to which the characters give little respect. In the DVD commentary of his film version of the novel (See Below), Director Terry Gilliam characterizes these actions as a theme of anarchism.

Some have suggested that the book's themes resemble those of The Great Gatsby, which deals with the state of the American Dream and the lives of the rich and careless. Others have surmised that the white Cadillac the pair drive (referred to as the "White Whale" in the book) is an allusion to the white whale in Moby Dick, symbolically representative of good and evil and a metaphor for elements of life that are out of people's control.


The "wave speech"

The "wave speech" is an important passage that takes place near the end of the book, after much of the chaos has subsided. Thompson considered the "wave speech" to be "probably the finest thing I've ever written." The wave speech describes 1971 as a turning point in the hippie sub-culture. "There was no point in fighting -- on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark -- the place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."


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